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State Police Investigate Propane Explosions

November 4, 1987

PINE GROVE, Pa. (AP) _ A man was hailed as a hero for jumping into his burning truck and moving it away from a restaurant while his cargo of propane tanks was exploding, but police say the truck’s load may have been illegal.

Pine Grove Fire Chief William Zimmerman said he found no evidence the propane tanks had relief valves that could have prevented the series of explosions.

He also said the truck and trailer should not have been parked next to the TTMA Family Restaurant along Interstate 81 on Monday evening.

The back of the truck, which carried a hot-air balloon and about 10 propane tanks, was burning when Clotaire Castainer of Palm Desert, Calif. jumped in and moved it 40 feet, authorities said.

″He is the bravest man I’ve ever seen,″ said Jay Shealy, who had stopped at the restaurant. ″That restaurant and everybody in it could have gone up.″

″I heard a bang, and when I came out people were trying to put it out with fire extinguishers, but it got too hot,″ said Dean Schutte of Pine Grove, who was working at a nearby service station.

″One tank would go off and blow off all its gas, then the next would go off in a row,″ he said.

Fireballs rose 40 to 50 feet, and shock waves rattled windows hundreds of yards away, Schutte said. Flashes of light were visible for miles.

Castainer and Susan K. Klopfenstein, also of Palm Desert, were traveling from Middletown, N.Y., where he operates a hot air balloon tour service, to California, where he operates another balloon service.

Zimmerman speculated the tightly packed cargo in the trailer might have rubbed insulation from an electrical wire, and that a propane leak could have been ignited by a spark.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze in about 10 minutes using foam. No one was injured, and serious damage was limited to the truck, trailer and cargo, authorities said.

″It was just like bombs going off,″ said Jane Biddle, who was working the restaurant cash register.

Customers scrambled for the door to move their cars, but most stopped to pay their bills first, she said.

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